AI and Deep Learning Tech: Liveblog from South By Southwest

SXSW panel on Artificial Intelligence policy

A distinguished panel is on stage: Chani Wiggins, a DC lobbyist on security and technology issues; Rohit Prasad, vice president of Alexa Machine Learning and Speech at Amazon; Congresswoman Suzan DelBene of Washington state, and Terah Lyons, former policy advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the White House. We will be hearing about the policy challenges of Artificial Intelligence, a topic that has attracted a crowd of more than 500 in the Hilton’s Salon H.

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Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:14 pm

Prasad: Raises issue that pool of talent in AI is small. A challenge.

Rep DelBene – lots of education needed in Congress. She worked at Microsoft. Policy needs to catch up with technology.
Lyons: Obama administration put out AI reports in the fall. Future of AI study began a year ago. There are big policy challenges and opportunities, Hosted workshops in five cities last summer, attended by more than 2,000 in person and thousands on line. We ended up created a massive policy report on AI.
White House staffers and experts then looked at AI effect on economy, a secondary report. Got it released in late December. Hope policy recommendations will be picked up by the new administration.
Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:18 pm

Prasad: Talent pool challenge is biggest in academia. Twenty years ago it was best place. Now you need large quantities of data and computing power. Hard for a grad student to test at scale. Don’t have good way to share with academia. The Alexa Prize was created for students to create a social bot that can engage coherently with a human for 20 minutes. Super hard. Students can test with millions of Alexa customers. Can research at scale.

National Science Foundation needs to get continued funding. Need to keep people motivated to stay in academia.
Rep DelBene – basic research investments by government have had tremendous return. I worry about NSF. Need funding over long period of time. Risky investments. Many things don’t quite work. But you find great breakthroughs. When we budget for 90 days at a time it doesn’t help researchers who need to know they will have funding for years.
Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:21 pm

Why does government need to invest when business invests so much?

Lyons: US invests one-eighth of what private industry does on AI. We’ve had to lean hard on the private sector to make sure growth in this sector continues, We could triple spending and still fall behind, It’s connected to talent. You have to fund researchers or they will go abroad.
Prasad: Govt investment led to current state of speech capability.
Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:27 pm

Does AI have enough diversity among the players?

Rep DelBene: diverse users of AI will require diverse workforce developing it. Need access to education especially science and technology. Need access to Internet across country. AI and other products require people who can think about cultural impact, interface with various cultures, not just science and tech people.
Prasad: AI has a lot of impact on education, how people learn. Personalized learning will help eliminate bias.
Lyons: The diversity problem is real, Number of female graduate students in science is 18 percent, which is crazy. (Might be 14 percent-less than 20 for sure.) This is a problem that keeps me up at night, We need to approach it from a lot of different angles,
Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:31 pm

Rep DelBene: we need to think longer than two year horizon. We need to look at investments in terms of decades for education of children. We have not been good at long term plans. It has devastating consequences.

Prasad: Every time a technology barrier is broken, like Industrial Revolution, there are social consequences. Government and industry need to train existing workforce in new skills, right away.
Rep DelBene: A lot of labor policy was written decades ago. Need to train young people and people already in the workforce who will need to make transitions. Learning has to be lifelong. All have policy impacts. Need to be forward looking.
Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:34 pm

Lyons: Need to have a vision for the future. Will need to be proactive. Example: we had discussion about future of aviation. Secretary of Transportation in 2013 was not asked one question at confirmation hearings about drones.

Rep DelBene: we need to see what policy works and adjust. Need to stay up to date.
Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:39 pm

Will Congress regulate AI?

Rep DelBene: privacy is important from policy standpoint. It’s a bipartisan conversation. Education of lawmakers is biggest issue, not partisan gridlock.
How does US remain a global leader in AI and tech?
Rep DelBene: other countries are investing in research, attracting talent. We need to prioritize those investments. Universities need to get investments. Immigration policy an issue, might keep talented students away from the US.
Prasad: I was an immigrant. What attracted me was the long-term view of the country. Amazon has a very long term view of solving hard problems for our customers. It is very early days, huge opportunities.
Lyons: need a friendly policy environment for innovation.
Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:42 pm

Lyons: need appropriate regulatory environment for testing new technology.

New Administration? Has not yet articulated tech policy priorities. They have not brought in tech talent necessary to make those decisions. Most of computer scientists have left the White House. They need to be replaced. Need technical talent at policy table. You need tech people in the room for policy. Obama Admin called it TQ, a necessary capability. Time will tell.
Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:52 pm

My take: Everyone was understandably careful on this panel, which made it a bit bland or enlightening. It’s no surprise that we need long-term thinking and investments for AI and tech. How in the world to achieve that in the current polarized political environment is hard to figure out.

Len Edgerly March 11, 20176:54 pm

Lyons: Bringing tech from industry to work in government was very effective in last administration. It helped both sides. Helped on policy. I hope it continues. It’s revolutionizing the way government does its job.